REVIEW: Medusa the Celt (True West)

A collaboration between three southwest theatre companies (True West, cube and Bedlam), Medusa the Celt is a new play by Nick Whitby, who also directs. The show has been touring outdoor venues around the south west with an interesting take on the story of Medusa.

The pages of historical background in the program indicate the depth and breadth of research that went into the writing of this play but also indicate the challenge it faces, filled as it is with many ideas. The play tells the tale of a celtic woman kidnapped and taken into the heart of Roman Britain and the journey her sister undertakes to rescue her. Along the way warriors, mystics, actors and spirits add their voices to the central message of the play, a romanticised comparison of the world views of the celts and the romans. The characters discussthe sense of oneness with nature, question the concept of ownership and comdemn opression, all noble aims but the power of this message is lost in a rather confused plot that even has the actors looking nervous and muddled at points.

There are some wonderful lines in the play and some great poetry and the central concept (medusa as a coded story about roman barbarity) is impressive but the play relys to0 heavily on telling us what is right and wrong about the celtic and roman ways rather than showing us. The tone changes frequently the writer seemingly unable to decide if he wants to write Blackadder or Howard Barker and the play is robbed of any satisfying conclusion to the tale as the characters become aware of their 21st century audience. There are powerful images and some good performances (the roman general/acting troupe leader is impressive as is the simpleton sister who follows her sister) but the direction misses many oportunities by relying on the storytelling and narration of characters rather than the dramatic moments on stage (a harp carried by musicians is not played, beautiful greek masks are held up and then dropped, stage boundires and conventions are picked up and dropped as the play progresses and the attempts at audience participation seem clumsy and out of place).  The outdoor settings, costume and music start to build an atmosphere that with development this play and production could carry into something magical but sadly at the moment this piece feels rather messy. A disappointment.

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